Film review: Captain Masr
Director: Moataz El Tony
Starring: Mohamed Emam, Hassan Hosny, Edward, Bayoumi Fouad, Ahmed Fathi and Ali Rabee
Being the son of an Arab screen legend never seems to faze Mohamed Emam. The 31-year-old Egyptian, whose father is comedy king Adel Emam, certainly didn’t resent the comparisons – and expectations – when his own acting career started to take off at the turn of the century.
Indeed, he welcomed the comparison, steadily picking up roles that channelled his father’s charm in such films as the 2009 romcom El Beih El Romancy and in the 2014 TV comedy Dalaa Banat.
For his latest project, the younger Emam returns to the big screen with the sports comedy Captain Masr (Captain Egypt) and it is easily the biggest tribute to his father yet.
It’s a good decision too, because the film is all about homage. Inspired by movies such as The Longest Yard, Mean Machine and Remember the Titans, it tells the story of promising footballer Kamal (Emam), who throws his career away after running over a traffic cop.
Sentenced to three years in prison, Kamal decides to redeem himself by putting together a prisoners’ football team for a charity match. The plot’s only divergence from Vinnie Jones’s Mean Machine and Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard is that the final match is not played against angry prison guards but a team of German convicts who fly into Egypt for the match (of course they do).
As is the case with such genre films, poor Kamal doesn’t have much to play with in terms of talent – his players include: disgraced advertising agent Adel (Edward), who is more concerned with his bank account than kicking a ball around; womanising gynaecologist Dr Jaber (Bayoumi Fouad); angry farmer Shinawy (Ahmed Fathy); and petty thief Adeeb (Ali Rabee). Watching over the team is an elderly prison warden (Hassan Hosny), who is counting the days to retirement.
Ironically, the film’s biggest weakness lies in not sticking to the established script closely enough. While the solid chemistry between the cast ensures the jokes come at a steady pace, the decision to have the ultimate match be against a another team of prisoners instead of prison guards robs the film of any dramatic heft.
With guards out of the picture, the film is devoid of any villains or conflict, and instead coasts along almost entirely on the charm of its actors.
Emam is a laconic presence throughout, full of barbed one liners as he works well opposite more colourful co-stars. Hosny is a delight as the tired prison warden – although his role is mostly a caricature of the fiery parts he plays in Egyptian TV dramas, the veteran actor never fails to raise a chuckle whenever he’s enraged.
It is this knowing wink that will ultimately determine whether you think Captain Masr is a champion movie or an own goal.
As a standalone film, it has more holes than a goal net. But as a subtle spoof of other films from the genre (in English and Egyptian), in addition to 1980s animated children’s football series (particularly Captain Majed and Hadaf), Captain Masr is a winner.
• Captain Masr is in cinemas now